Affordability is now the key factor for grocery shoppers with ethical considerations least important, according to a report in the Guardian.
It’s something we’ve long found to be the case in dealing directly with potential customers.
There are customers who genuinely want food produced to different standards—organic, free-range and the like—to those of mainstream, intensive agribusinesses. They understand those standards entail less efficient means of production and are prepared to pay a price that reflects the higher costs of making what they see as an ethical choice.
However, those customers are a declining minority. The majority of potential customers fall into two main groups: those who want the cachet of more ethical standards but only if it comes at an intensive price and those who just want the cheapest food going.
Both groups are growing in size, as the Guardian reports.
Cash-strapped consumers are changing the way they shop to take advantage of cheap food deals.
It was the £1.99 Tesco chicken that, four years ago, came to symbolise cheap supermarket food and helped to galvanise consumers into questioning the provenance and economics of the staple items in their shopping basket.
In its new branch in Saxmundham – the Suffolk market town that even longer ago famously fought off plans for an out-of-town Tesco superstore – the £4 fresh chickens in the chiller cabinet are being ignored by the late afternoon shoppers who are favouring items covered in “reduced” stickers…
…a straw poll of customers at this store… reveals that shoppers of all ages and from all social backgrounds are more worried about price hikes than anything else when it comes to making their produce choices.
This mirrors findings from a recent government survey which showed that in May the main food issue of concern to 63% of respondents was food prices – an increase from 60% in November last year.
Even ethical considerations have dropped down their list of considerations, according to a separate survey by charity IGD ShopperVista which showed that price is crucial in determining product choice, with 41% of shoppers naming it as the most important factor and 90% listing it within their top five influences. Ethical provenance was considered least important – mirrored in the 3.7% slump in sales of organic food and drink last year.
What the report doesn’t cover is whether consumers are so cash-strapped that they have to buy cheap food or if they’re simply unprepared to cut spending in other areas.
I looked up the Office for National Statistics figures for household spending in 2010. UK households spent an average of £474 a week in 2010, with food and non-alcoholic drinks coming fourth for spending after transport, housing, recreation and culture. Restaurants and hotels were fifth.
The other thing the report doesn’t mention is the relative effect of food prices versus incomes.
A household with high income spending 10% of that income on basic food and faced with a 100% rise in food prices can adjust its consumption to eat less expensive foods or reduce non-food expenditure. Even if it made no adjustment to food consumption, the largest cut required in non-food expenditure would be from 90% of household income to 80%. In other words, an 11% cut.
However, a household with low income spending 40% of that income on basic foods has much more limited options. They have to eat less food or make serious cuts to non-food expenditure. If the household makes no adjustment to food consumption, non-food expenditure would have to be cut from 60% of household income to 20%.
What’s telling about the value that British society places on food is not that low-income families are looking for the cheapest food but, if the Guardian report is to be believed, that more affluent families are too. In other words, they’d rather buy cheap food than cut spending elsewhere.
Personally, I’d rather have good food, from non-intensive sources that include the croft, at home than eat out, have the latest mobile phone, go to the pub or have a second car. But then, I am a little weird.
Then there’s the issue of food wastage—why buy food that’s only destined for the bin—but that’s something for another day.
- Blog Action Day: The Power of We (justgai.blogspot.com)
- We must accept that Britain cannot rely on world food supplies | Natalie Bennett (guardian.co.uk)
- Fruit and veg prices have soared by more than half in just one year… and the pain isn’t over (dailymail.co.uk)